Six Silent Killers

About 15 years ago, the CEO and Chief Strategy Officer of medical products company Becton Dickinson (BD) turned for help to TruePoint’s Michael Beer and Russell Eisenstat—at the time, both professors at Harvard Business School. Thus began nearly a decade of exploration into BD’s all-too-commonplace problem: why do perfectly sound strategies fail to be implemented?

Using TruePoint’s Strategic Fitness Process, Mike and Russ both studied and facilitated strategy implementation efforts at dozens of companies and more than 200 business and operating units. Analyzing in-depth the strategy efforts of 12 organizations, they identified six organizational barriers they dubbed “The Silent Killers of Strategy Implementation and Learning”—the title of their renowned 2000 article in MIT’s Sloan Management Review. These silent killers are:

  • Top-down or laissez-faire senior management style
  • Unclear strategy and conflicting priorities
  • An ineffective senior management team
  • Poor vertical communication
  • Poor coordination across functions, businesses or borders
  • Inadequate down-the-line leadership skills and development

“Individually, the six barriers are troubling. Taken together, they create a vicious circle from which it is difficult to escape,” the article explains. However, TruePoint’s research—backed by a long track record of success facilitated by the Strategic Fitness Process—points the way out of this vicious circle. “Companies can become fast and agile only if the six silent killers are met head-on and transformed into the six core capabilities:"

  • A leadership style that embraces the paradox of top-down direction and upward influence
  • Clear strategy, clear priorities
  • An effective top team, whose members possess a general-management orientation
  • Open vertical communication
  • Effective coordination
  • Down-the-line leadership

Relevant articles
“The Silent Killers of Strategy Implementation and Learning”
“How to Have an Honest Conversation About Your Business Strategy”